NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, December 12, 2015, 8:52 PM
Many of St. John’s coach Chris Mullin’s memories from his Big East playing career are colored orange due to encounters with Syracuse and its bespectacled coach Jim Boeheim, but Sunday’s matinee at the Garden will be different for him.
“Strange that I’m on one side and he’s not there,” Mullin said.
Mullin is still growing into his role as head coach with a 6-3 record, but the tenth game of his career will match him against Mike Hopkins, the Syracuse associate coach filling in for Boeheim as the coach serves a nine-game suspension. The NCAA found that Boeheim failed to create an atmosphere of compliance in his program, and the Orange lost the first game that he could not coach in last week to Georgetown. Mullin, who has been critical of the NCAA regarding several of his players’ eligibility issues, maintained that Boeheim was a coach who he respected dating back to his playing days.
“His longevity speaks for itself,” Mullin said.
There is plenty that remains unchanged about Syracuse sans Boeheim. The defense will still be a zone for the most part, and the Orange possess talent, but Mullin is more concerned with bringing his team through the non-conference schedule in preparation for the Big East slate. After a loss to Fordham upon returning from a rough trip to Maui, St. John’s squeaked past Niagara during the week, 48-44. The Red Storm will look to freshman point guard Federico Mussini to lead the charge against Syracuse’s zone. Fellow guard Felix Balamou noted that his team needs to be decisive on offense and push the ball in an attacking manner.
“Ball fakes are going to be important,” Mullin said. “Basically, at some point you have to make some shots. When you’re open, shoot with confidence.”
Mussini shoots the ball with confidence, but he has also shown need for improvement in recent games. Against St. Francis, he knocked down just one of nine shot attempts. Against Niagara, he turned the ball over five times. He acknowledged that he must take better care of the ball. He will be challenged by the zone as he did not face a defense like Syracuse’s in Europe.
“No one played 40-minute zone,” he said.
Mullin imparted lessons from his experience probing zone defenses this week, but he also allowed that he was still trying to find his comfort level at the same time. Even with Boeheim not present, Mullin is adjusting to the new role still.
“If I said it felt normal, I’d be lying,” he said.